Just a few days ago, Tudor made huge waves in the watch world with their surprise (but long time coming) release of the Tudor Black Bay Fifty-Eight “Navy Blue”
This is a watch that screams summer vibes, but this particular piece (and the whole line) is much, much more than that.
This is a tale of a brand with a rich history: one which – unlike any other at the moment – is listening to customers and its fanbase, and giving watch enthusiasts exactly what they want. And I’m all here for it.
We’ll get to it in a second, but to fully appreciate this release, we’re going to need some context. So, without further ado, let’s dive (pun: intended) into the Tudor Black Bay.
A little bit of history
We briefly mentioned Tudor’s backstory in this article here, about how it was set up to give you everything you would want from a Rolex (quality, durability and reliability), but with a different name and for a substantially “un”-Rolex pricetag: a real bang-for-your-buck timepiece.
One crucial thing worth mentioning, and to keep in mind as you read this article, is that Rolex also set up this subsidiary as a market “testing ground”: it was the means by which Rolex could make potentially risky design and colour choices, without tarnishing their own brand image. If the risky choice paid off, well hey, all the better.
Furthermore, Tudor’s links to the diving world is a fundamental aspect of their history and serves as a really good tool to understand the Black Bay lineup as a whole.
With the advent of the Tudor Oyster Prince Submariner ref. 7922 in 1954, Tudor stepped into the world of diver watches. The Oyster case immediately proved itself as the go-to watch for professionals, permitting divers to reach depths of 100m with it on their wrists. Shortly after, in 1955, the ref. 7923 was released, and to this date was the only Tudor Submariner to mount a manually wound caliber, making it substantially thinner than other dive watches of the epoch. Over the next 3 years, the brand worked tirelessly to make it more robust and durable enough to withstand a depth of 200m, when finally, in 1958, the ref. 7924 “Big Crown” achieved exactly this. Keep that reference number in mind, it’ll come in handy later on in this article.
After the iconic “Big Crown”, 4 more models followed to close out the first generation of Tudor Submariners, all bearing the ref. 7928 name:
- ref. 7928 “Square Crown Guards”
- ref. 7928 “Pointed Crown Guards”
- ref. 7928 “Tropical”
- ref. 7928 “Rounded Crown Guards”
The year 1969 saw the birth of the second generation of Tudor Submariners. By this point, both the US Navy and the French Navy – La Marine Nationale (“MN”) – had been heavily reliant on the expertise and craftsmaship that Tudor put into their robust dive watches.
The second generation of Tudor Submariners were characterised by the now iconic “Snowflake” hands and hour markers, a nickname used to describe the geometry of these features. Between 1969 and 1999, the Tudor Submariner line would see more than 20 different references, but for the purpose of this article, we’ll only focus on 2 of them, as they are highly relevant to Tudor’s latest release.
The ref. 7016 was the first batch of second generation Submariners and the first to feature the “Snowflake” hands. These came about when the navy requested that the handsets to their timepieces be more legible for their divers, so, Tudor delivered. A small portion of these military issued 7016s were sent to a regiment of the South African Navy, and are some of the most sought-after in the collectors world.
Quick bit of trivia: the ref. 7016 were the first to feature the “MN” caseback engraving, a testament to their military service.
The black dials of the ref. 7016s underwent various degrees of “dial” rotting, so in 1975, Tudor launched the new ref. 9401/0, introducing the legendary “MN Blue” dial and bezel inserts. With the ref. 9401/0, you had 4 options: blue dial, black dial, and rectangular or triangular 3, 6, 9 hour markers. The blue dial and rectangular hour markers combination was the one preferred by the French Navy’s divers, thus becoming synonymous with one another. These “Snowflake” hands and hour markers continued through until 1982, when they were replaced by Mercedes style hands and circular and triangular plots.
You may have noticed that I haven’t talked much about the movements that were housed in these MN Submariners: that’s because, truth being told, they weren’t all that exciting (mostly ETA based movements), and I want to get into the Black Bay line without droning on too much about the history of the Tudor Submariner.
The Tudor Black Bay Family
Remember that “experimental paint pallet” thing? Keep that in mind as we go through the Black Bay catalogue. Of course, there will be some obvious similarities to Rolex Divers, but pay close attention to just how much choice you get with this range.
This “adventurousness” and “freedom” in design is exactly what we haven’t seen from Rolex in the past couple of years (heck, maybe even the past decade: when was the last time, other than the Rainbow Daytona, that Rolex did something chromatically exciting?).
As part of their rebirth in the mid-2010s: Tudor’s Chief Designer, Ander Ugarte, looked back at this “experimental” aspect of their history, as well as its ties with the Navy, for inspiration. Ugarte explains that “the idea was not to make a copy of early Submariners”, but was to translate it into “something contemporary and with a new identity”. Tudor ran with this idea, and totally knocked it out of the park.
Also, just a quick point to note: what you’re about to see is a selection of some of the watches in the Black Bay family. All in all, Tudor offers 66 watches which bear the “Black Bay” name (inclusive of strap variants etc.).
The Tudor Black Bay
The year is 2013, and after a couple years of development, the first Tudor Black Bay made its debut with a 41mm stainless steel case and a Burgundy colourway. Other variations such as the “Midnight Blue” and the “Black” versions would follow over the coming months and years. These were powered by ETA cal. 2824 movements, a non-date automatic caliber that is still today regarded as a workhorse of the horological industry.
Then, in 2016, Tudor gave a huge update to the Black Bay line: they would all be equipped with a totally new and in-house caliber: the MT5602 – a COSC certified powerhouse. This manufacture caliber beats to a frequency of 28,8000 beats/hour and is controlled by a variable intertia oscillator and silicon balance spring. It also features a transversal bridge to protect it from shocks. As far as robust and reliable automatic movements go, it doesn’t get much better than this one.
Also in 2016, Tudor took a step in the minimalist direction and launched the Black Bay 36. Other than its smaller, 36mm stature, this version doesn’t feature a bezel insert: instead, this one is smooth, polished steel. It’s a totally different look, but it’s no less Black Bay. This watch is so incredibly versatile: on a steel bracelet, it’s a classic understated sportswatch, and on a leather strap it could more than pass as a dress watch: it’s a truly “everyday” watch, a very worthy candidate for a one-watch collection.
Like the early Black Bay 41s, it’s powered by the ETA cal. 2824.
This smooth-bezel version of the Black Bay line was given 2 additions in 2017 and 2018, with the 41mm and 32mm versions respectively.
The 41mm version is perfect if you want a heftier presence on your wrist with a more sleek design than the flagship graduated bezel version.
Personally, I think that the 32mm version was a fantastic move for the brand: it introduced a whole new demographic to the Tudor sportswatch market: women and younger men with slimmer wrists. Tudor capitalised this niche in the market, making me “smile” like the “self-winding” signature on its dial.
After Tudor fans and forums discussed their hopes in getting a date version of the Black Bay, so that they could have a modern version of the iconic ref. 7021 of 1969. So, what did Tudor do? They listened. In 2017, they announced that they would be manufacturing its flagship Black Bay with a date function. Inside of this would lie the in-house cal. MT5612, a date complication addition to the already high performance MT5602.
The Black Bay line was so well received that it won it the “Revival” prize at the Grand Prix D’Horlogerie in 2013!
Originally, the watch was designed and marketed as “an affordable version” of the Rolex Submariner: if you didn’t have the money for the Rolex, you could get the Black Bay. But, as time went on, with each release, the Black Bay became much more than that. In fact, any watch geek will tell you that nowadays it’s become a watch in its own right, giving some serious competition to the Sub.
Tudor Black Bay Fifty-Eight
Following the release of the various iterations of the 41mm versions of the Black Bay, Tudor yet again lent its ears to the public. Whilst the 41mm debutants were well received, there were calls for the Black Bay to be improved in the dimensions and proportions department. More specifically, to be smaller and slimmer.
Just as a side note, Watchfinder & Co. did a very clever market analysis: with the world average wrist circumference of about 18.5cm, and assuming the shape of the human wrist can be modelled as a slightly flattened cylinder, by collecting visual impact data of over 100 years of watch-fair releases, the mathematically “perfect” case size is about 39mm (give or take 1mm).
Enter the 2018 Tudor Black Bay Fifty-Eight. This watch measures 39mm in diameter and just under 12mm thick.
“Other than the dimensions, how is it different to the regular Black Bay?” – you may ask.
- slimmer bracelet
- cleaner finishing on the case surfaces
- slimmer bezel
- entirely new in-house COSC certified MT5402, built solely for this watch to accomodate for these reduced sizes
- warmer and more “vintage-inspired” tones, thanks to the rosey gold accents
If you’ve been lucky enough to try one of these on, you’ll know that it wears just so well.
The “Fifty-Eight” takes its name from 1958: the year in which the (previously mentioned!) iconic “Big Crown” Tudor Submariner ref. 7924 was first released. Have a look at it below – you can clearly see the similarities:
For a while, the Black Bay Fifty-Eight “Black” was seen as the Rolex Submariner’s main competitor, although it was marketed to a more vintage-loving demographic. The price? For the steel riveted (which, that being said, don’t actually hold anything – they’re only there for aesthetic purposes!) bracelet version, you’re looking at €3,500. Yep. You read that right.
Tudor Black Bay Chronograph
Depending on who you ask, Tudor was (and still is) a household name in the world of chronographs, particularly in the 1970s, with their use of eccentric colour schemes. Only just recently did the Black Bay line get its fair share of the complication.
The latest pieces are powered by the totally in-house MT5813 caliber, a COSC certified movement which flaunts an all-new silicon balance spring, allowing of an impressive 70-hour power reserve, quite remarkable for a Chronograph! Measuring 41mm across, the Black Bay Chronographs will sit very nicely on any type of wrist, giving wearer a perfect combination of sleek 70s racing look with a rugged diver feel.
And what would a Tudor diver-inspired watch be without the iconic Snowflake hands and a 200m waterproof rating? Naturally, the Black Bay Chronos have these features.
If you would like to read more about the Tudor Chronograph lineage, look no further than our comprehensive guide here!
Tudor Black Bay Bronze
Those who work in the Maritime Industry will know that two of the most common materials used on ships are bronze and brass. Aside from their warm, yellow hue, they have incredible corrosion resistance properties.
Given their unbreakable bond with the seas, Tudor thought it be appropriate to design and manufacture a watch that would embody this Maritime essence. The result is a highly specialised 43mm bronze alloy case, inspired by these golden accents on ships. Sitting inside of this new case is the cal. MT5601, specifically built for these new proportions and sizes.
Its satin brush finishes highlight and reinforce this Naval theme, and really “look the part”. I would definitely pair it with a cableknit sweater like below!
Oh, and they also partnered with Bucherer to create a specially limited edition with a beautiful deep blue dial and bezel, available exclusively from Bucherer’s European boutiques. On the aftermarket, these are trading/selling for well over what they were sold at retail.
Now, I want a Bronze watch…
Tudor Black Bay P01
In 1967, the US Navy was looking for a new dive and sailing watch to supply to their Special Forces. Tudor immeditaly got to work with the “Commando” project to fulfil this order. They developed a specially-made bezel (with a patented locking system, too) that would provide better protection and handling during missions. Unfortunately, the US Navy didn’t pick Tudor’s design, so these prototypes were left unused and sat in their archives for over 50 years. Then, in 2019, Tudor decided to re-vamp this project, branding it as the Black Bay P01 – meaning “prototype 1”
This is a true “enthusiast’s” watch, and it takes a real conoisseur to appreciate the crown at the 4 o’clock position. Given the story behind it, as well as the innovation it came with, this reimagination of the US Naval prototype won Tudor the “Revival” Prize at the 2019 Grand Prix D’Horlogerie de Genève, just as it had done with the classic Black Bay line back in 2013.
Have a look at the side-by-side comparison of the original P01 and the modern version of it!
Tudor Black Bay GMT
Released at Baselworld 2018, the Tudor Black Bay GMT was quite possibly the hottest watch of the year. Fitted with the characteristic “Snowflake” style on all hands, the GMT function was an instant hit. The sporty red-and-blue colourscheme is complimented by the get-up-and-go nature of the specially designed MT5652 caliber of the Tudor GMT, and it comes on your choice of a steel riveted bracelet, a distressed “Terra di Siena” leather strap, or a black fabric strap. Whichever one you choose, this will be your infallible travel watch.
Two years on, it still totally lives up to the hype. My only complaint? It’s a little bit on the thick side for my liking: 15mm? Just a tad too much for me. Still gorgeous though.. and for €3,860 ? Totally willing to look past it
Newest release: the Tudor Black Bay Fifty-Eight “Navy Blue”
Okay, so maybe the whole “blue” craze is a little bit cliché by now, but my oh my is this watch a beauty. Not only that, but this isn’t any ordinary blue: this is the French Navy Blue. This watch is far from Tudor’s take on the zeitgeist, but rather them paying homage to their rich history.
This is the culmination of different snapshots of Tudor’s past coming together in a totally modern package:
- proportions and overall geometry of the iconic ref. 7924 “Big Crown” Submariner
- French Navy Blue colourway echos the “MN” Marine Nationale Submariners of the 70s, 80s and 90s
- slim and polished bevels which run across the matte lugs from the “MN” Submariners
- Aluminium bezels to give matte effect
- classic Tudor “Snowflake” hands, a staple of the brand that has been present since 1969
Like the other Black Bay Fifty-Eight, the “Navy Blue” is far slimmer than its 2013 and 2016 predecessors.
Navy blue vs. Black
In my opinion, the Navy Blue presents more of a competition to the Submariner compared to the black dial version of the Fifty-Eight. Here’s why: (Navy Blue vs. Black)
- bright white lume vs. “pre-tanned” LumiNova / “fauxtina”
- white gold accents and hands vs. rosey-yellow gold accents and hands
- no red triangle vs. red triangle
These differences ultimately make the Navy Blue version cleaner, starker and more modern than the Black version. As such, it makes it more similar and comparible to current Rolex Submariners, meaning that it is now their main competitor.
To a certain extent, the Black Bay Fifty-Eight line can now be seen as a symbiosis: if you want a more vintage feel with warmer tones and hues, go with the black dial. If instead you want a more modern feel, the Navy Blue is for you.
Finally, I really liked the way Tudor handled this release from a logistical standpoint: they shipped these Navy Blue Fifty-Eights before the release, so that when they announced it, literally anyone could stroll into their ADs and buy it over the counter! I think this marketing strategy has worked out very nicely, even though I’m pretty sure that by the time you’re reading this you’d probably be put on some sort of a waiting list. Essentially, though, by the time Tudor had announced this release, they had already delivered. Brilliant.
Too long, didn’t read
Crown & Caliber created a very useful diagram of the enitre Black Bay collection: have a look!
As I mentioned before, the Tudor Black Bay line is giving Rolex some serious competition. Of course, it would be foolish to think that it will ever overtake the Submariner: it still is a subsidiary of Rolex, after all. But, one very interesting thing to note is that the Black Bay 58 (the original black dial version) has been sold out for nearly 2 years, and if you want one, there’s a long waiting list ahead of you, not far off from that for the Rolex Submariner…. something to think about. The gap between these two brands has never been smaller!
Clearly, Tudor offers a heck of a lot of choice. There is a common misconception that this large range of configurations has the effect of “diluting” the brand. For argument’s sake, let’s suppose that were true. Even then, when it comes to a watch line which retails for under €4,000, you really don’t have to take yourself as seriously as Rolex does, and you can take these liberties. After all, wasn’t this one of the main reasons why Tudor was set up in the first place?
Another “something to think about”: the parent company has 200+ configurations with their Datejust, so why does Tudor receive criticism for having multiple colourways for the Black Bay? There seems to be a bit of a double standard here.
I don’t really do much market research, but it’s quite clear to me that the Black Bay Fifty-Eight is a future classic, and I won’t be surprised if they’ll be trading for over retail sometime soon.
I love Tudor. And what’s not to love about it? You’re getting so much watch, for a fraction of the price, and you’re getting the same exact quality, reliability and durability (and a totally in-house COSC movement), not to mention a rich history to be proud of. The only thing is, it’s not a Rolex. But then again, you already know that, if this is the watch you want.
Plus, it’s the official watch of the All-Blacks. Are you kidding me? THE ALL-BLACKS? For someone who loves and plays rugby, that’s so cool.
Plus plus, all the watches listed in this article are strap monsters: you can pair them with almost every single type of strap you want: NATO, leather, colour-matching fabric? You name it, it’ll go well with it (Tudor offers most of these as well). Versatility is the name of the game, and in my opinion, Tudor snatches Rolex’s crown when it comes to this.
If I wasn’t a totally broke 21-year-old, I would definitely try to get my hands on a Black Bay, especially the black-dial Fifty-Eight or the GMT. If anyone wants to give me one DM me @patricktheroman on insta.
What do you think of Tudor as a whole? Let us know in the comments!
(all photos are from the official Tudor Watch website unless otherwise specified)